Climate impact of big dairy criticised

| 18th June 2020
Report criticises lack of commitment by dairy companies to tackle absolute emissions, but the sector says they are caused by mergers and acquisitions.

The 32.3 million tonnes increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs) from these companies since the Paris Agreement in 2015 is the equivalent to that from 6.9 million cars over a year, it noted.

Thirteen of the world’s largest dairy businesses combined have a greater impact on the climate than mining company BHP, or oil giant ConocoPhillips, according to a study published this week.

The total combined emissions of the dairy corporations rose by 11 per cent between 2015 and 2017, US-based sustainable food campaigners the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) found. Milk production increased by eight per cent.

Complete the Ecologist's 2020 Reader Survey.

The 32.3 million tonnes increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs) from these companies since the Paris Agreement in 2015 is the equivalent to that from 6.9 million cars over a year, it noted. Milk production increased by eight per cent.

Timeframe

There was significant variation in emissions patterns across the 13 companies studied, which included Nestlé, Danone and Arla.

India’s Amul dairy corporation increased its emissions by more than 40 per cent in the two-year period, while France’s Le Groupe Lactalis and Canadian Saputo emitted some 30 per cent more during that timeframe, the report found.

Nestlé, Arla and US-based Dean Foods reduced their emissions, the latter by almost ten per cent.

Mergers

None of the companies considered in the report had committed to an absolute reduction of emissions from their dairy supply chains, or emissions from the animals themselves, the IATP said.

Instead, they have pledged to cut emissions intensity, which measures emissions per litre. For example, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) found that the dairy sector reduced its emission intensity by 11 per cent between 2005-2015, but its overall emissions grew by 18 per cent in the same period.

However, the FAO also found that without any action to increase efficiency, emissions from the sector would have risen by 38 per cent.

In a joint statement, trade bodies the International Dairy Federation and the Global Dairy Platform said that claims about the increase in emissions from the top 13 global dairy companies were misleading, since much of the increase was due to mergers and acquisitions by these companies.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here